San Diego Opera places general director Ian Campbell on leave

San Diego Opera patrons gather outside the Civic Theatre in downtown San Diego before a recent performance of "Don Quixote."
(David Ng / Los Angeles Times)

San Diego Opera has placed its longtime general and artistic director Ian Campbell on paid leave after a three-decade tenure that has been rocked in recent weeks by public and internal criticism over his role in the decision to close the company.

The opera said in a news release Friday that Campbell and his ex-wife, Ann Spira-Campbell, who is a high-ranking administrator in the company, have both been placed on leave. A company spokesman said in an interview that the Campbells will no longer be involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization, but they are still being paid and are technically still part of the company.

Friday’s announcement comes a week after an exodus of 13 company board members, including president Karen Cohn. The opera’s board has been divided over the March decision to close, with a contingent of members working to raise money to save the company.

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Neither Ian Campbell nor Ann Spira-Campbell responded immediately to a request for comment. The opera said that Keith Fisher has been named chief operating officer and that he will manage the staff and resources of the company at this time. Fisher has been with the company since 2002 and recently served as executive director.

San Diego Opera also said on Friday that it is launching a $1-million crowdsourcing campaign that will go toward the creation of a 2015 season. The deadline for the campaign is May 19. The company said that if the goal isn’t reached by the deadline, the money will be returned to donors.

The opera’s acting board president, Carol Lazier, has already donated $1 million to the effort to save the company. She has stated that the opera needs to be reinvented and that the company’s normal four-production season is no longer sustainable.

“We are now very focused on reshaping the San Diego Opera and following a fiscally responsible path,” Lazier said in Friday’s release.

Much of the recent criticism of Ian Campbell has focused on his salary, which has long topped $500,000 a year. Unlike leaders of most similarly sized opera companies, Campbell has held two roles -- general and artistic director.


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